In fact, the steel, now trademarked as Flash Bainite, has tested stronger and more shock-absorbing than the most common titanium alloys used by industry.
Now the entrepreneur is working with researchers at Ohio State University to better understand the science behind the new treatment, called flash processing.
What they’ve discovered may hold the key to making cars and military vehicles lighter, stronger, and more fuel-efficient.
In the current issue of the journal Materials Science and Technology, the inventor and his Ohio State partners describe how rapidly heating and cooling steel sheets changes the microstructure inside the alloy to make it stronger and less brittle.
The basic process of heat-treating steel has changed little in the modern age, and engineer Suresh Babu is one of few researchers worldwide who still study how to tune the properties of steel in detail. He’s an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Ohio State, and Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Center for Integrative Materials Joining for Energy Applications, headquartered at the university.
“Steel is what we would call a ‘mature technology.’ We’d like to think we know most everything about it,” he said. “If someone invented a way to strengthen the strongest steels even a few percent, that would be a big deal. But 7 percent? That’s huge.”
Yet, when inventor Gary Cola initially approached him, Babu didn’t know what to think.
“The process that Gary described – it shouldn’t have worked,” he said. “I didn’t believe him. So he took my students and me to Detroit.”
Cola showed them his proprietary lab setup at SFP Works, LLC., where rollers carried steel sheets through flames as hot as 1100 degrees Celsius and then into a cooling liquid bath.
Though the typical temperature and length of time for hardening varies by industry, most steels are heat-treated at around 900 degrees Celsius for a few hours. Others are heated at similar temperatures for days.
Cola’s entire process took less than 10 seconds.
He claimed that the resulting steel was 7 percent stronger than martensitic advanced high-strength steel. [Martensitic steel is so named because the internal microstructure is entirely composed of a crystal form called martensite.] Cola further claimed that his steel could be drawn – that is, thinned and lengthened – 30 percent more than martensitic steels without losing its enhanced strength.
If that were true, then Cola’s steel could enable carmakers to build frames that are up to 30 percent thinner and lighter without compromising safety. Or, it could reinforce an armored vehicle without weighing it down.
“We asked for a few samples to test, and it turned out that everything he said was true,” said Ohio State graduate student Tapasvi Lolla. “Then it was up to us to understand what was happening.”
Cola is a self-taught metallurgist, and he wanted help from Babu and his team to reveal the physics behind the process – to understand it in detail so that he could find ways to adapt it and even improve it.
He partnered with Ohio State to provide research support for Brian Hanhold, who was an undergraduate student at the time, and Lolla, who subsequently earned his master’s degree working out the answer.
Using an electron microscope, they discovered that Cola’s process did indeed form martensite microstructure inside the steel. But they also saw another form called bainite microstructure, scattered with carbon-rich compounds called carbides.
In traditional, slow heat treatments, steel’s initial microstructure always dissolves into a homogeneous phase called austenite at peak temperature, Babu explained. But as the steel cools rapidly from this high temperature, all of the austenite normally transforms into martensite.
“We think that, because this new process is so fast with rapid heating and cooling, the carbides don’t get a chance to dissolve completely within austenite at high temperature, so they remain in the steel and make this unique microstructure containing bainite, martensite and carbides,” Babu said.
Lolla pointed out that this unique microstructure boosts ductility -- meaning that the steel can crumple a great deal before breaking – making it a potential impact-absorber for automotive applications.
Babu, Lolla, Ohio State research scientist Boian Alexandrov, and Cola co-authored the paper with Badri Narayanan, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering.
Now Hanhold is working to carry over his lessons into welding engineering, where he hopes to solve the problem of heat-induced weakening during welding. High-strength steel often weakens just outside the weld joint, where the alloy has been heated and cooled. Hanhold suspects that bringing the speed of Cola’s method to welding might minimize the damage to adjacent areas and reduce the weakening.
If he succeeds, his discovery will benefit industrial partners of the NSF Center for Integrative Materials Joining Science for Energy Applications, which formed earlier this year. Ohio State’s academic partners on the center include Lehigh University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Colorado School of Mines.Contact: Suresh Babu, (614) 247-0001; Babu.firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Pam Frost Gorder, (614) 292-9475; Gorder.email@example.com
Suresh Babu | EurekAlert!
Physics, photosynthesis and solar cells
01.12.2016 | University of California - Riverside
New process produces hydrogen at much lower temperature
01.12.2016 | Waseda University
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy